A federal judge on May 30 ruled that a casino watchdog group and three Elk Grove residents can assess whether various documents were unfairly withheld from court records pertaining to Wilton Rancheria’s proposed, $400 million tribal casino-resort for Elk Grove.
The same party, led by Stand Up for California!, was last February denied a lawsuit that attempted to stop land from being placed into a federal trust for the Wilton Rancheria’s proposed casino project.
The plaintiffs most recently challenged the exclusion of documents from the administrative record, claiming that certain attachments to email messages that were otherwise included in that record were missing. They sought access to header information such as authors, recipients and transmission times of those attachments.
Cheryl Schmit, director of the Stand Up group, said that it was while her group was in court last February that they learned about those documents.
“The U.S. Department of Justice attorney made it clear that they had not included some documents in the administrative record,” she said. “So, the attorney sent a Freedom of Information Act request for those documents, and it came back that they were withholding 1,098 documents. And so, they went to a court motion to supplement the administrative records.
“It became clear to the judge that the application process was unusual, that the department had not adhered to their own regulations. (He) required them, at the very least, to produce (a) privilege log (or document that identifies what items are withheld from a civil lawsuit).”
The judge’s legal opinion on that matter reads: “Though the plaintiffs fail to make a showing to warrant supplementing the administrative record, they have made a prima facie showing of bad faith to warrant limited discovery – here, the production of a privilege log to facilitate review of the defendants’ assertion of privilege.”
It was also argued by the plaintiffs that the U.S. Department of Interior improperly “predetermined the outcome” of the tribe’s application, and that the review process was rushed. That process culminated in a decision being made just prior to the 2017 presidential administration change.
Although the plaintiffs desired that the administrative record be supplemented with various documents, the judge denied that request.
The court determined that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently show that the documents were deliberately or negligently excluded or that they provided “background information in order to determine whether the agency considered all of the relevant factors.”
Schmit responded to the judge’s decision for the plaintiffs to be allowed to view a privilege log.
“We’re just one, little step more to go,” she said. “We still got to get the information, and then see what’s there and continue with the challenges.
“We would just like to see that the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs practice good government policy and adhere to regulation and department guidelines when they process these applications.”
Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock said that he is confident that the federal court will once again rule in favor of the tribe in its efforts to have a casino-resort built at Highway 99 and Kammerer Road.
“The federal court in Washington, D.C. has already ruled against them and in favor of the federal government and Wilton Rancheria on claims concerning the decision to place land into federal trust for the tribe,” he said. “Wilton Rancheria is confident that the federal court will again rule in our favor on the remaining claims.”